Best of our wild blogs: 5 Jan 12

Volunteers for 2013
from The Green Volunteers

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Thailand: The plight of the hawksbill

One man is fighting to save a seriously endangered species of turtle off Prachuap Khiri Khan Bangkok Post 5 Jan 13;

Majestic in the water with a highly desired shell of striking colours and patterns, the hawksbill turtle with its sharp curving beak has roamed the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea for eons, surviving all that nature's predators can throw at it.

Today, it is just hanging on and needs a helping hand to save it from extinction. And one arm of support comes from an unlikely source - a former fisherman who was once among the worst offenders in the decline of the ancient creatures.

Like other turtles, the female hawksbill climbs ashore to lay between 90 and 140 eggs before returning to the sea. The female can lay eggs several times in a single season.

Some eggs never make it to the stage of hatching - they are eaten by birds and humans. Hatchlings, which are about 4cm long, also fall prey to larger animals before they can make it to the sea.

Fully-grown turtles are exploited for their colourful and elaborately designed shells.

Other risk factors include nesting sites being encroached upon by human activity and deterioration of coral reefs, their primary food source. Blast fishing and net fishing are other hazards. In all, it is estimated that only one in 1,000 survives to reproduce.

That's why Preeda Charoenpak, owner of Ban Maprao Koh Thalu resort in Prachuap Khiri Khan's Bang Saphan Noi district, decided he had to give the hawksbill turtles a head start after they began to land on Koh Thalu to nest.

He runs the country's largest privately run hatchery and nursery for hawksbill turtles.

Mr Preeda's first encounter with the hawksbill was in July 2010. Initially, he did not see the turtles, just their tracks.

Mr Preeda contacted provincial fishery authorities and academics to survey the beach on Koh Thalu.

"About 500m south of the resort, we found turtle tracks along the beach. From those tracks, we knew the mothers had laid their eggs," he said.

The trail led to a nest where they found 163 eggs. Mr Preeda decided to relocate the eggs into a container for better protection from predators until they hatched 45-50 days later.

Another nest with 133 eggs was found nearby and this clutch was sent to Chumphon's Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre.

Other hawksbill turtles have come ashore to nest since then. In early 2011, Mr Preeda decided to set up a sea turtle hatchery and nursery with assistance from the Royal Thai Navy which runs the Sea Turtle Conservation Centre in Sattahip, Chon Buri.

Though it is costly, Mr Preeda believes it is worth the price.

"We just help them to survive and then release them back into nature where they will grow and breed," he said.

"It gives me pleasure seeing the small creatures hatch. They are put in nursery ponds to keep them safe from predators.

"If we don't help them they have just a 10% chance of survival - or less. With our help their chance of survival increases to 90%," he said.

Mr Preeda has a bigger plan - to set up what he has tentatively called the "Thai Sea Rehabilitation" foundation to make long-term plans for marine resource management with proper budgeting. It will address marine resources management as a whole.

He is in the process of applying to register the foundation.

That hawksbill turtles have picked Koh Thalu as a sanctuary is not by chance.

Koh Thalu and its surrounding sea covering more than 150,000 rai are declared off-limits to fishing of all types all year round.

Mr Preeda's years of efforts in restoring coral reefs and raising environmental awareness are paying off.

A former fisherman in Phetchaburi's Ban Laem and Bang Ta Boon, he once owned more than 20 fishing trawlers.

He thought of quitting the business when it was hit hard by depleted fish stocks.

In 1978 he went to Koh Thalu and knew it was time to leave fishing behind. He sold the trawlers and used the money to buy 300 rai of land to start up Ban Maprao Koh Thalu Resort.

Over the years, he began to undo the damage his fishing trawlers had done to nature through a campaign to stop blast fishing and the use of certain fishing gear destructive to the marine system.

He also experimented growing coral reef by using broken pieces of live coral and attaching it to dead reefs.

Offshoots of coral on the dead reefs began to grow and branched out into fully grown reefs.

Paopipat Charoenpak, 28, manager of Ban Maprao Koh Thalu Resort, is Mr Preeda's son and right-hand man.

He has helped his father run a sustainable fishing project which bans some fishing gear harmful to marine life in an area designated for conservation. The project is welcomed and supported by locals.

He said he and his father are seeking to make Koh Thalu a conservation and rehabilitation area for rare aquatic species. The resort has enlisted help from various agencies including the Marine Biological Centre which has launched a project to track female sea turtles using satellite technology.

Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, head of the Marine Endangered Species Unit at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, said the idea is to collect information about their migratory patterns. A few have been fitted with a tracking device. One of them is named Mae Piang by the resort.

Whether more turtles are tagged and the project expanded depends on the results of the experiment, he said.

"Basically we want to know where they go after laying eggs and if they will return to nest again," Dr Kongkiat said.

Boonlert Phuekthong, 40, a hatchery worker trained by the Royal Thai Navy, said about 18 mother turtles nest on Koh Thalu.

A female turtle lays about 90-140 eggs per nest and hatching is expected after 60 days. Hatchlings are not fed in the first two days and after that they are fed twice daily with minced fish and seaweed.

Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Chalee Chinyawiroj, a naval officer, said the hawksbill turtle, eretmochelys imbricata, is one of seven rare sea turtles found in tropical waters.

The hawksbill turtles laying eggs on Koh Thalu is a sign of its pristine environment.

Mr Preeda's resort has 20 hatchery and nursery ponds with 1,024 turtles and 1,200 eggs.

"In Thai society, the turtle is synonymous with longevity. What we have been doing is to make sure that sea turtles will continue to roam the sea for millions of years," he said.

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India: Turtles paddle to dangerous shores

The Economic Times 4 Jan 13;

CHENNAI: The nesting season for Olive Ridley turtles along the city coast has started on a tragic note. At least 30 dead turtles have been washed ashore between Neelankarai and Napier Bridge in the past fortnight, with as many as 11 being found on the night of December 28 by Student Sea Turtle Conservation Network (SSTCN) volunteers on the Marina. "All of them were on the 500-metre stretch between the high-mast lights at Pattinapakkam and the place where the Adyar meets the sea," said R Nishanth, a volunteer.

Conservationists, however, say it could be a sign that more are on their way to the city. "In 2012, we found 80 dead turtles in the entire season and 120 nests, one of the lowest," said SSTCN coordinator V Arun. About 10,000 hatchlings were released.

In 2011, 120 dead turtles washed ashore. "The same year, we had 183 nests, releasing around 14,000 hatchlings," said Arun.

It is estimated that only one in a thousand eggs reaches adulthood. "We can only make sure these hatch. Once they are in the sea, there is nothing much we can do," said Akila Balu of SSTCN.

The death of so many turtles along the Chennai coast is considered significant as the Olive Ridleys swim along the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh coasts to Odisha, one of the three mass-nesting sites in the globe, where they nest on the beaches of Gahirmatha, Rushikulya and at the mouth of the Devi river. According to a study by B C Choudhury and Bivash Pandav for their book 'Marine turtles of the Indian continent,' the Olive Ridleys come from the Gulf of Mannar and even from Sri Lanka.

Along the way, many turtles are accidentally scooped up by trawl nets and dragged along the sea floor. "By the time the fishermen haul up the net four hours later, the turtle is either dead or comatose. It is then discarded overboard and washes ashore," said Shekar Dattatri, wildlife film maker and conservationist. Gill nets are stretched across the sea, just under the surface, and can be up to 3km long. Turtles get entangled in these and are very difficult to disentangle. Therefore fishermen cut off their flippers. Without flippers, a turtle will drown, he added.

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